Get it in Tiger Eye Pearl.
With its dramatic color (don’t call it bronze), my 2021 Acura TLX Type S is meant to be noticed. Angular jawbones. Diamond pentagon grille. Hooded Camaro-like headlights. Front and rear spoilers. Quad tailpipes the size of ship cannons.
“Cool car,” said a passerby in Gaylord.
“Really like that car,” said another in Charlevoix.
“Did a great job on the styling,” said my gearhead son.
The Type S is the Japanese luxury brand’s Type A personality. It’s a return to the brand’s sporty roots (Acura is even bringing the sporty Integra nameplate back) and a Type S badge that graced its performance models like the TL, CL and RSX in the 2000s.
To emphasize the point, Acura introduced the Type S in May at Mid-Ohio race track in the hands of none other than IndyCar star Helio Castroneves, who wrung the sedan’s neck around one of North America’s most demanding tracks with your loyal Detroit News scribe strapped into the right-hand seat. It was his first time in the car as well as mine.
“I was not expecting it to be this quick — wow,” exclaimed the four-time Indy 500 winner as he mashed the throttle onto the front straight.
This go-round, the Type S is aimed squarely at luxury muscle cars like Audi’s S-line, BMW’s M-series, Cadillac’s V-series — vehicles that beg you to bypass the interstate and take the long way home on country roads.
West of Interstate 75 in northern Michigan, I turned right on to M-32 — its serpentine curves flowing like a fast river to Lake Michigan. I held the Drive Mode selector to the right until it registered SPORT PLUS. HUNNHHH! The engine quickly downshifted with a grunt. Type S, meet S curves.
Its muscles taut, the Acura leapt from turn to turn, the 355-horse turbo-6 — unique to this car in the TLX lineup — roaring. The paddle shifters — unlike many vehicles — responded quickly to my touch, downshifting 4-3-2 into a hairpin turn with a matching engine blip. HUNHH! HUNH! Big red Brembo brakes slowed the 4,221-pound all-wheel-drive beast. Back up through the ratios in this 10-speed box, the Type S was confident, smooth.
The Acura is worthy of the segment. But the joy of the Type S is not just in its eager drivetrain.
This is a sedan that aims to be as different as the mid-engine NSX supercar that rebirthed Honda’s performance brand back in 2015. While not as radical as Tesla, the TLX is a comprehensive reassessment of each vehicle feature.
Take the aforementioned Drive Mode selector. The selector is the focus of the Acura console. I spun the selector to the desired setting — COMFORT, NORMAL, SPORT, SPORT PLUS (yes!) — then tucked my fingers into the “trigger shifter” buttons below. It’s intuitive and an Acura signature. Over time, you learn its contours and don’t even need to look when shifting between, say, reverse and drive.
Acura’s next innovation in its so-called Acura Precision Cockpit is more problematic. Like a Mazda 3, the remote infotainment screen is high on the dash for better driver visibility. Unlike the Mazda’s rotary dial (familiar to users of Audi, BMW, Genesis), TLX uses a touchpad as controller.
It’s not as unworkable as Lexus’ maddening touchpad, but it takes time to learn. May I recommend learning it when stationary? It’ll save you distraction. I’ve grown accustomed to the pad after driving multiple TLX, RDX and MDX models — and it has its charms. In particular, I love the CHING! sound it makes when I swipe from screen to screen. Like all systems (save, ahem, the dreaded Lexus) you’ll eventually settle on a pattern of icons you prefer (aided by corresponding steering wheel buttons).
The dramatic cockpit offers separation from Acura’s more spare Honda sub-brand. That’s good. Indeed, the Type S bears no similarity to the Civic Type R, Honda’s halo hellion. The two vehicles crystallize the difference between the two brands. Both are fast. But the Type S is sophisticated and stylish.
Still, the Acura is a cautionary tale in how quickly technology is moving. The 2021 platform has already been lapped by the 2022 Civic, which boasts wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, compared with the Type S’s wired connections.
Curious, too, is the midsize TLX chassis layout. Its 113-inch wheelbase puts it squarely between the 115-inch Audi A6 and 111-inch Audi A4. However, the Acura’s 32.9-inch rear seat legroom is significantly smaller than the Civic’s 35 inches (on a 110-inch wheelbase). That makes for tight rear-seat confines if you pick up your six-foot-tall buddies for a night out.
That space consideration might drive performance advocates to the roomier Audi S6. But Acura is betting everybody else on the block has an Audi. And that four-ring badge will cost you a whopping $79,440, while my comparably equipped Type S tester is $53,825. Oh.
Roll down the cul-de-sac in your Tiger Eye Pearl Acura — Jewel-eye headlights shooting daggers — and no one will mistake you for an Audi. The Type S exudes a muscle-car vibe — consistent with its birthplace in the industrial Ohio heartland.
In that regard, the Type S’s most natural competitor is the Cadillac CT5 V-series — itself equipped with a special turbo-6 with specs remarkably similar to the Type S: 10-speed tranny, exquisite handling, sculpted design. And the Caddy easily fit my 6’5″ frame in back. I was enthralled with it after an aggressive drive to Hell, Michigan and back.
But the Acura makes a strong value play with its standard AWD system compared with the $57,000 Caddy’s RWD offering. Add AWD and the Cadillac’s price balloons to $64,000.
Michiganians might appreciate that AWD in, say, February.
2021 Acura TLX Type S
Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sports sedan
Price: $53,325, including $1,025 destination fee ($53,825 as tested)
Powerplant: 3.0-liter turbocharged 6-cylinder
Power: 355 horsepower, 354 pound-feet of torque
Transmissions: 10-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph (4.9 sec., Car and Driver); top speed, 155 mph
Weight: 4,221 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA, 19 mpg city/25 highway/21 combined
Highs: Head-turning style; smooth, powerful drivetrain
Lows: Small backseat; quirky touchpad
Overall: 3 stars